Monday, October 15, 2012

10 mind-bending novelty records inspired by Batmania!

The hills are alive with the sound of Batman!
The 1966-1968 Batman series is, without fear of exaggeration, one of the great accomplishments of Western Civilization in the Twentieth Century. I need hardly list its many attributes here, but one of the best side effects of the show was that it created a merchandising bonanza whose impact is still being felt on Ebay today. Everybody wanted a slice of the Bat pie, so to speak. Naturally, this included the always-greedy music industry. The show's indelible Neil Hefti-composed theme song became a Top 10 smash hit for the Marketts (a surf rock combo whose "Out of Limits" is prominently used in Pulp Fiction) and was covered by a whole host of artists in a variety of styles. But that was just the beginning! Batman-related novelty singles and albums flooded the market in 1966 and 1967 -- some of them recorded by people in the show's cast, others recorded by opportunists looking to cash in on the fad. Here's a sampling of some of my personal favorites:

1. Dickie Goodman - "Batman and His Grandmother"

Dickie, formerly half of the duo of Buchanan & Goodman, was the king of the so-called "break-in" records. These were audio comedy skits which take the form of fake news reports and use clips of pop songs in place of people's answers. Both with Bill Buchanan and on his own, Goodman used his "break-in" records to comment on seemingly every political and cultural trend in America between the 1950s ("The Flying Saucer") and the 1980s ("Hey, E.T.!"). You didn't think he'd skip the Bat fad, did you? By the way, that weird clip which is used to represent the grandmother (the high-pitched "Ah! Ah! Ah!") is from "Juanita Banana" by Henri Salvador, who in turn cribbed the melody from the "Caro nome" aria from Verdi's Rigoletto.

2. The Scaffold - "Goodbat Nightman"

The Scaffold were a satirical British musical trio of the 1960s who enjoyed several years of chart success in their native country, including the #1 hit "Lily the Pink." Their records are funny and well-made and still hold up pretty nicely today. All this would be pretty impressive, until you consider that one member of the group was Mike McGear, a.k.a. Mike McCartney, brother of Paul. With that perspective, the accomplishments of the Scaffold seem sort of insignificant. For you Monty Python fans, another member of the Scaffold, Roger McGough, makes a cameo in The Rutles. He's the Liverpool poet who only gets to say two words before Eric Idle cuts him off.

3. Burt Ward - "Orange Colored Sky"
4. Burt Ward - "Boy Wonder, I Love You"

It seems almost inconceivable, but somehow Burt Ward -- Robin himself -- teamed up with one of the leading lights of avant garde rock, Frank Zappa, to make these records back in 1966. At the time, Zappa was preparing the debut LP of his band, the Mothers of Invention, for MGM Records when he was hired as an arranger and composer for these sessions. "Orange Colored Sky" is a warped, wildly off-key take on an old standard, while "Boy Wonder" is a hilarious Zappa original.

Here's a whole article (not by me!) about the Ward/Zappa connection. Enjoy!

 5. Adam West - "The Story of Batman"

While this article is mainly about Bat songs from the show's heyday, I had to make an exception for this unreleased 1971 single which Adam "Caped Crusader" West recorded for the Dunhill label. Truly, this song puts the "bat" into "bat shit crazy" with West giving listeners some less-than-practical advice about what to do with their 45s. Batman only lasted two seasons, but West could never quite hang up the cowl for good. He reprised his signature role on Legends of the Superheroes (a two-part live-action special from 1979), and voiced the Dark Knight in several animated series, including The New Adventures of Batman (1977) and Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show (1984-1985). More recently, West has occasionally been called upon to play Batman (in addition to playing "Mayor West," a fictionalized version of himself) on Family Guy. Speaking of which, please watch this montage of Adam's best moments on that show.

6. Link Wray and His Raymen - "Batman Theme"

I promised I'd limit myself to just one remake of the famous theme, so I chose this blast of unruly gutbucket guitar by one of the pioneers of loud, ugly rock & roll, Link Wray. Link more or less paved the way for punk and heavy metal with an instrumental called "Rumble" in 1958, which heralded the arrival of the so-called "power chord" and which ushered in the era of intentional distortion. (Link supposedly helped create his signature sound by punching holes in his amplifier with a pencil.) Link's songs, always a favorite among juvenile delinquents, were heavily used in the early films of John Waters. The music that plays over the opening credits of Pink Flamingos, for instance? That's Link. His combative version of the Batman theme is especially notable because it features some spoken dialogue, with Link himself portraying the Caped Crusader. ("Right again, Robin!")

7. Frank Gorshin - "The Riddler"

Along with Burgess Meredith and Cesar Romero, impressionist Frank Gorshin was one of the B-list celebrities who suddenly found himself attached to the hottest show on television when he guest starred as The Riddler on Batman. Naturally, he wasn't going to let this opportunity pass by without recording at least one cash-in record. He basically just talk-sings some "joke book"-type riddles over a rockin' beat. The song goes very well with the Batusi dance, too.

8. Peggy Lee - "That Man"

This record is an example of how pervasive Batmania truly was in '66. Peggy Lee was a phenomenally popular jazz singer (plus songwriter and actress) for decades, but even she couldn't resist the siren song of the Bat. But our Peggy plays it a bit cooler than most. Notice the song is called "That Man" and not "Batman." Still in all, the song's lyrics are unmistakably inspired by the series. She not only copies the template of Robin's "holy!" catchphrase ("Holy popcorn!"), but she tosses in some of the show's trademark onomatopoeia for good measure.

9. Sun Ra and the Blues Project - "Joker is Wild"

This one takes a bit of explaining. Sun Ra (1914-1993) was unquestionably one of the most eccentric and bizarre musicians of the last century. Born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Alabama, the jazz bandleader/poet/philosopher took on the extra-terrestrial "Sun Ra" persona and claimed to be from Saturn. Nevertheless, he had a nearly six-decade career as a respected and cultishly-adored figure in the music industry. From the 1950s onward, he led a constantly-evolving ensemble generally known as the "Arkestra." And, as you can probably guess by now, several of these folks decided to get in on the Batman trend in 1966. Only they didn't record a mere single in the crimefigher's honor. Oh, no. They did a whole album! Credited to "The Sensational Guitars of Dan & Dale," it was titled Batman and Robin and featured comic book-style graphics on the cover. The selection above is only one of twelve cuts.

10. Jan and Dean - "Robin, The Boy Wonder" (and so much more!)

You know who else decided to devote an entire album to Batman? Yep, those golden gods of surf pop, Jan and Dean, who released Jan and Dean Meet Batman that fateful year of 1966. J&D may be familiar to modern audiences because of their hits like "Dead Man's Curve," "Surf City," and "The Little Old Lady From Pasadena," but if you spend any quality time perusing their discography (highly recommended!), you'll soon learn that these guys had a profoundly goofy sense of humor and did not take themselves one bit seriously. While the Beach Boys were changing the face of pop music with Pet Sounds, Jan and Dean were releasing an entire LP's worth of songs and skits about a costumed superhero. Imagine a band doing anything like that today! Jan and Dean Meet Batman is such a weird pop culture curiosity that I've decided to leave you with a few more selections from it:

Isn't the Internet a marvelous thing?

No comments:

Post a Comment